12 July 2008

Rodents of Unusual Size

After our big meal at Bar Uriarte last night, we slept like babies. We stumbled out of our room for coffee at 11:30, and bumped into Casa Palmeritano's newest residents, who'd just arrived this morning. They're from Brooklyn-- like me!

This is our last full day here, so we wanted to tie up a few loose ends. Norma doesn't work on Sundays, so we wanted to tip her personally and thank her for taking such good care of our room. Norma has radar; the moment you wander into the dining room, she drops whatever she's doing in another part of the house to squeeze oranges for your jugo de naranja exprimida. She always offers to make us some eggs, but we're usually too stuffed from the previous night's dinner to eat anything more than a couple of medialunas. Norma whistles while she works-- really.

We also wanted to pay Lorena today, in case we didn't see much of her tomorrow. I've said it before, but I've never encountered a better value that Casa Palermitano, and I've never encountered more welcoming hosts than Lorena and Andrea. In addition to providing us a very attractive, clean, comfortable, and spacious room for the bargain-basement price of $58 USD a night, Lorena and Andrea have helped to make every aspect of our trip better. They've not only called cabs, drawn maps, and made dinner reservations for us, but they've been friends to us here. They've given advice on how to stay safe, and chatted with us extensively in their office about Buenos Aires, their home, their plans for the future, and their hilarious, pickle-eating parrot, Lucas. Lucas plays in Lorena's hands like a puppy. She can turn him over, rub his belly, and put her fingers in his mouth. By contrast, Lucas will only speak for Andrea, but he won't let her play with him. Our flight is tomorrow night, but we reserved the room through Monday because we didn't want to check out early. Since Lorena had the room open anyway, she wouldn't take our money for Sunday night. She's just like that. We didn't want to risk offending her, so instead of insisting she let us pay for Sunday night, we asked her if we could take her and Andrea our for dinner. We have a 9:30 reservation for four at (drumroll) Bar Uriarte. We hoped to get back to El Establo, but we're kind of beefed out.

Dinner plans in place, Steve and I left for the zoo. Jardín Zoológico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires is in the Palermo Barrio, not far from our hotel. We've walked passed it more than once, but never quite made it through the gate. Before she and Larry left for home yesterday, Marcia warned me that the zoo here is more old school. "It might be upsetting to an animal lover," she explained.

There are several species of birds and rodents that wander freely through the park and approach people for food. There are kiosks everywhere that sell "animal food," and you can hand feed almost anything that lives in the Buenos Aires zoo. Animals with major fangs are out of reach, but for safe animals that you can't hand-feed, there's a chute you can use to pass food into the cage. We have petting zoos in the U.S., but it's hard to imagine a zoo that would allow animals-- any animals-- to wander freely.

The majestic aquatic turtles live in a glass tank the size of a small bathroom. Granted, they don't move much, but the enclosure had a goldfish-in-bowl look to it. Then there was this guy, a beautiful blue and gold macaw surrounded on one side by bricks, and on the other by a chain-link fence.

Animals from all over the world are represented at the zoo, but our favorites were some of the more unusual local speciments. The carpincho (capybara in English) is a rodent that's bigger than a large dog. Carpinchos are valued here for their leather. In fact, one of the current residents at our hotel, Chase from Los Angeles, showed up to breakfast in his handsome new carpincho slippers. The craziest-looking animal we saw was the giant anteater. Although these are usually harmless, an anteater attacked a zookeeper here last year and left her in critical condition.

It was about 70 degrees and sunny the whole time we were at the zoo. Not bad for winter, huh? It was a beautiful day, and we really enjoyed ourselves. We walked back to the hotel, and stopped at Munchi's for one last taste of Argentine helado-- frambuesa y chocolate amargo. Mmm, mmm.

Andrea and Lorena called a taxi to take the four of us to Bar Uriarte for our 9:30PM reservation. The staff recognized us from the night before, and they were extremely friendly and welcoming. We started with a sparkling Trumpeter Rosado de Malbec and some cheese croquettes. We ordered a couple of starters to share, and then moved on to our entrees and the best vino tinto of our trip-- the Flecha de los Andes Malbec. Steve and Lorena both ordered ojo de bife (ribeye) with goat provoleta and chimichurri. This may be total blasphemy, but Bar Uriarte's meats are better than a top notch Parilla's. Our waiter overheard us debating the various desserts and offered to make up a "special dessert tray for four." It was more like dessert for forty! We made a valiant effort, but the four of us barely made a dent in this tray.

I started to doze off on Steve's shoulder between entrees and dessert, and I suspect that's how Lorena and Andrea will remember me: ¡La chica que se durmió en la cena!

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